Clevinger named Tribe's fifth starter for now

Pitch count a factor, but rookie will return to rotation on Saturday vs. Twins

Clevinger named Tribe's fifth starter for now

CLEVELAND -- The Indians have named a fifth starter -- kind of.

Prior to Wednesday's game against the Astros, Indians manager Terry Francona announced that rookie Mike Clevinger will slot into the rotation's fifth spot for Saturday's start against the Twins. Clevinger is not stretched out to handle a typical starter's workload, though, so Josh Tomlin will remain available behind him in the bullpen.

"We've also talked to him about approaching it like [coming out of the] bullpen," said Francona, referring to Clevinger. "Do your [pregame] stuff with the relievers, your throwing. Then, when the game starts, just prepare for it like you're coming into a normal game, like it's the fifth inning. We want to keep him on one routine."

The decision to start Clevinger came after Francona met on Tuesday with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and Chris Antonetti, the team's president of baseball operations, to discuss the fifth-starter situation. In the wake of Tomlin's second-half struggles, Cleveland used a "bullpen day" on Monday and has been weighing how to proceed with the No. 5 spot.

Tomlin lasted only 1 2/3 innings in his most recent start, on Aug. 30 against Minnesota, forcing Francona to use five relievers behind the right-hander in that game. In Monday's 6-2 loss to Houston, Clevinger worked the first 1 2/3 innings but was followed by seven relievers. Tomlin logged 13 pitches in a scoreless ninth to finish that game.

"With Tomlin, he's in the bullpen," Francona said. "If he's not [used in the next few games], we'll throw a side at some point, because we also want to keep him in line for that next start. How we get there, depending on some of the games, will dictate what he does."

That means Francona is leaving the door open for Tomlin to start again for the Indians on Sept. 15 against the White Sox. The veteran right-hander opened the year with a 9-1 record and a 3.21 ERA in his first 15 starts, but then went 2-7 with a 7.96 ERA in 10 starts before being pulled from the rotation.

Clevinger has been the Tribe's top rotation alternative for most of the season, but the club's No. 5 prospect has not logged a normal start -- not counting Monday's bullpen day -- since Aug. 13. His 43 pitches against the Astros on Monday were his most in an outing since Aug. 18, and Cleveland has liked what the righty brings out of the bullpen.

Francona noted that Clevinger would throw a mound session on Wednesday to prepare for Saturday's game, in which he could conceivably throw more pitches than he did his last time out. Beyond that, the Indians still do not have a firm plan for how the fifth spot will shake out for the remainder of the regular season.

"We want to have options," Francona said.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.